Anxiety is comprised of fear symptoms (panic, phobia), worry symptoms (ruminating thoughts, anticipatory anxiety, obsessions), and physical symptoms. The physical symptoms of anxiety result from the fight-or-flight response, where the sympathetic nervous system is activated, and adrenaline and cortisol are released in response to a perceived feared stimulus. The following are physical symptoms of anxiety:
- Rapid heart beat – this helps to get the blood flowing faster to your arms so you can punch, more blood to your legs so you can run, and more blood to your lungs so that more oxygen can be carried to your muscles.
- Numbing and tingling – this is the result of blood being shunted from places where it is not needed, like the skin (and digestive system), and is responsible for the numbing and tingling of your arms or legs.
- Dizziness, blurred vision – this is the result of blood being slightly curtailed to the brain. You may also get light-headed from this.
- Rapid breathing – this oxygenates the blood more to give you more power and stamina when fighting or running. Rapid breathing can induce chest pain, shortness of breath, and a choking feeling.
- Muscle tension – the large skeletal muscles tense up and prepare to fight or run. This creates power and responsiveness. However, this may cause muscle pain and trembling.
- Pupils dilate – this allows you to see better to assess the danger. However, this may induce sensitivity to light or spots before your eyes.
- Sweating – this helps to cool your body down, and prevent overheating. It also makes you more slippery to enemies.
- Digestive system slows down – this is to channel the resources from non-essential systems (i.e. digestive system) to the systems that are involved in the fight-or-flight response (i.e. skeletal muscles). However, this may induce nausea, butterflies in the stomach, and dry mouth. The butterflies in the stomach (a fluttering) are felt when the blood flow to the digestive slows down.
- Increased alertness – you may be more alert and hypervigilant for any danger in the environment, and waiting for something to happen.
In summary, the physical symptoms of anxiety are due to the fight-or-flight response, triggered by a perceived threat.